Gunshots a stark reminder of life as we know it.

May 10, 2009

street barricadeThere are several reasons why Viking Woman and I enjoy living in New Zealand.

Included on that list is a game we like to call “Guess Where We’re From.”

Impressively, most people in Napier pick us out as Canadians as soon as we speak, although the reasonings for that correct guess are varied.

One lady told me she can tell a Canadian accent because it sounds French.

Another said our accents are similar to those from the southern U.S.

Considering we’re from British Columbia, many, many leagues from the east of Canada and the south of America, we can only wonder about the strange pathway words must take as they travel from the ear to the brain.

Another tick in New Zealand’s Pro column is that its police force does not carry firearms. After nearly two years in California, where nothing puts an exclamation point on a dispute quite like a bullet, it is comforting to come to a country where sane people live.

Not that there aren’t violent crimes committed here. As long as the world contains shitrats, there will be violence. And, yes, some of that involves guns. And that’s when the police’s Armed Offenders Squad springs into action, complete with body armour and automatic weapons.

But the ordinary beat cop — the neighbourhood constable — still trusts that commonsense and respect for the law and authority will rule the day.

And then something horrific happens and it all goes pear-shaped.

Napier led off the national TV news broadcasts for several days this past week. The Art Deco City was on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

Details are still sketchy, and I won’t even pretend to know all the facts, but it appears that a fellow, returning to his Hospital Hill residence after walking his dog, found three policemen executing a drug search warrant in his house. Something about cannabis, apparently.

The man suddenly goes apeshit, a gun is produced, shots are fired, one policeman is killed, and his two partners and a neighbour are forced to crawl to safety, bleeding from bullet wounds.

The shooter, as it turns out, is ex-military, an avid pig hunter and the owner of a large cache of weapons and ammunition. There is also rumours of steroid abuse. There are also rumours of explosives and booby traps.

The gunman’s house has a 360-degree view and that advantage gave him a clear shot at anyone attempting to approach. There are many unfortunate aspects to this incident, perhaps the saddest being that the police were not able to retrieve the body of their fallen comrade for nearly two days. I can’t begin to imagine the anguish of staring at a dead friend and being absolutely helpless to return this good man to his family.

Heavily-armed police were brought in from around the country. The Army produced a pair of LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles). Neighbours of the gunman were either evacuated or forced to hide in a far corner of their dwellings through the entire duration of the standoff.

In the end, the nightmare lasted 51 hours. When the police finally did enter the house, after observing zero activity for several hours, they found the gunman dead in a barricaded bedroom. We all assume it was self-inflicted but, again, I’ll wait for the official announcement.

Things like this don’t happen in New Zealand. Things like this don’t happen in Napier. And things like this don’t happen this close to us.

That’s right: the gunman was holed up in a house not five minutes from where we live. There is nothing heroic about that statement — we reside at the bottom of Hospital Hill and were in no danger of being injured unless those rumoured explosives turned Hospital Hill into Hospital Hollow.

But the road we live on — little more than a country lane, really — provides one of the few accesses to the top of Hospital Hill. As a result, the police set up a roadblock at the end of it — complete with an officer bearing a large gun — and we had to talk our way in and out.

We heard every shot fired. We heard every gas canister launched.

One of our neighbours was so freaked by the experience that he took his wife and daughter off to his mother’s place in another, less involved, part of town.

Once we did leave our street, it was to find large sections of Napier cordoned off and closed down, to allow access for police, military and emergency vehicles, and to keep the media and assorted looky-lous at a safe distance should anything nasty go down.

I’m glad it’s all over (although, as the accompanying photo shows, the “residence” of our street are still living behind a barricade of sorts). I’m thankful no one else was hurt and the dead officer’s family can finally begin the grieving process.

But I’ve also had my eyes opened. When terrible things happen, when a stranger snaps and death descends, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live.

I’m going to give Viking Woman an extra hug as soon as I post this entry. This close to Ground Zero, we now have a greater insight into the truth behind the cliche about life being precious. It’s as subtle, and as powerful, as a finger on a trigger.


One Response to “Gunshots a stark reminder of life as we know it.”

  1. Alice Grey said

    glad you’re safe!

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